Diving into Historical Context

It seems that after my mother passed away in July, I caught the genea-bug once again following a hiatus of nearly a decade. In the past eight or so months, I have written over two dozen posts on this blog detailing my recent discoveries. These findings have revealed not only new information but also there are certain details in my book that require correction. As a result, I have been thinking of producing a fourth edition of Gathering Leaves. The current plan is to both condense and clarify what is already in the book and at the same time adding new discoveries.

Another possibility that I have considered is rewriting Gathering Leaves in the form of a science fiction novel in which I travel throughout time to observe my ancestors in their daily lives. There is one twist which is that I am capable only of traveling to those points in time that I have found documented somewhere. As a result, I am presented with a relatively narrow view of who my ancestors were and what their lives were all about.

What is lacking from the lean narrative that is presented by the dry recitation of an individual’s life events, consisting only of a place, a time, and maybe one or more relations, is the historical context in which the event occurred. Historical context refers to the social, religious, economic, and political conditions that existed during a certain time and place. It is all these things that when laid out before us help us to interpret and analyze the events of the past. Without the historical context, the event lacks meaning.

The American Civil War and the Reconstruction-era that followed, shaped the lives of my Southern ancestors deeply and profoundly. The actions of my great, great-grandfather and my great-grandfather shaped the life of my maternal grandfather in ways that he may not have been aware of. This is important to me in wanting to understand who my grandfather was and why he was the way he was.

After locating my gg-grandfather throughout space & time, I imagined what if I were drop in on him every year between 1868 and 1875 (except 1869.) as only a silent observer. What I present here, I believe only scratches the surface towards my goal of gaining a better understanding of my Southern ancestors.

1868

I found D. J. Dobbs in July of 1868 at a meeting of the Democratic party of Cobb County, Georgia. This is a Presidential election year. I see in an Atlanta newspaper called the Weekly Atlanta intelligencer, reports coming in from various cities in Georgia regarding county-level meetings of the Democratic Party. The date on the newspaper is Wednesday, July 15, 1868.

There is a report regarding a Democratic party meeting in Fayetteville at the county courthouse on 1 July 1868. The purpose of this meeting was to select members to attend the state convention where they would nominate a candidate for president of the United States. One of the resolutions coming out of that meeting was to congratulate Pres. Johnson and the country upon the failure of impeachment. Similar to recents events, President Andrew Johnson was impeached by Congress but was acquitted by the Senate.

The Fayette County Democratic Party further stated that they would “to the utmost of our power use all honorable means for the overthrow of the Radical Party.” By radical party, they are, of the course, referring to the Republican Party. There is a report of the meeting of the Democratic Party in Fulton County. This meeting is for the same purpose as the meeting in Fayette County.

Then I see that there is also a report of a meeting of the Democratic Party in Cobb County that was held in Marietta Georgia on July 7, 1868. They also chose delegates to attend the state convention of the Democratic Party of Georgia and one of those delegates was my great, great-grandfather D. J. Dobbs. Their statement ends with “Cobb County stands ready to give Radicalism a mortal blow when the contest begins.”

The 1868 United States presidential election was the first election of the Reconstruction Era, Republican nominee Ulysses S. Grant defeated Horatio Seymour of the Democratic Party. It was the first presidential election to take place after the conclusion of the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery. It was the first election in which African Americans could vote in the reconstructed Southern states, under the First Reconstruction Act.

During this time, things were still fairly volatile in the South. Three of the former Confederate states (Texas, Mississippi, and Virginia) were not yet restored to the Union, their electors could not vote in the election. The 1868 vice-presidential candidate for the Democrats, Frances Blair Jr, a Missouri politician, was a rabid racist who in his national speaking tour was warning of the rule of “a semi-barbarous race of blacks who are worshipers of fetishes and polygamists” and who wanted to “subject the white women to their unbridled lust.” As part of their campaign, Republicans advised Americans not to vote for Seymour, as there was a danger that Frank Blair might succeed him. Also, in some states, Frank Blair’s own party considered him a liability and wanted the VP candidate to restrict his campaigning to Missouri and Illinois.

Former Union Army Gen. Ulysses S Grant won the popular vote by only a slim majority and this shocked the political elite of the Republican party. Along the border, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware went overwhelmingly Democratic. Kentucky’s case was influenced by hostility toward the Radical Reconstructionists, which had led to the state’s first postwar government being almost entirely composed of former Confederates. There were accusations that the Democrats had cheated in New York state. Georgia’s vote was contested at the electoral count, with the Republicans claiming the Democrats won only by “violence, fraud, and intimidation, and Georgia’s vote in Electoral College likely would have been disallowed if the Democratic victory had been decisive.”

The Union Army had recently pulled out of Georgia, and the vacuum that was created allowed the Redeemers to begin the process of reasserting political control over the state. The Redeemers or Redemptionists were generally led by the rich former planters, businessmen, and professionals, and they dominated Southern politics in most areas from the 1870s to 1910. In the Gilded Age, they were known as Bourbon Democrats.

They say that there is nothing new under the sun and that is the case in 1868 where the newspapers of the day were talking about the very same thing we are talking about today – Voter Fraud.

In the same July 15 newspaper, there is an item entitled “How Radical Majorities Are Made in the South.” It states that the Philadelphia Daily News published an affidavit made by a carpenter in Florida who was hired by the Republican Party to build a ballot box with “double sides, movable at pleasure.” It further states that this ballot box with movable sides was used in Tallahassee Florida. It proclaims that “this is the way that radical Senators were elected” in Florida in 1867. The article closes by asking: “will the people permit men chosen in such a manner to rule and ruin the country?”

The item does not describe how the box was operated to facilitate the fraud effort.

A few weeks later, in the Wednesday, July 29, 1868 edition of the Weekly Intelligencer, they announced that the Democratic Party state convention was called to order and was followed by a roll call. Listed as a delegate representing the County of Cobb was D.J. Dobbs.

Following this, the convention nominated several men as candidates for each of the congressional districts in the state of Georgia. In that same edition of the paper, that was a curious item that seems to be saying the quiet parts outloud.

The Civil War-era Gov. of Georgia was a former Whig named Joseph E Brown and the fact that he was a former leader of the Confederacy did not seem to matter now that he was a member of the Republican Party of Georgia. Brown had been a close friend of the Dobbs family. His family was also early settlers of Cobb County. The item in the paper indicates that the Democratic Party and the Republican Party in Georgia might have disagreed on some things, but they were fully in agreement that the Georgia state constitution forbade persons of color from holding office. Now that the federal government had released its hold on the state of Georgia, the original intent by the white politicians of both parties was to restore the status quo to what it had been in the antebellum days. This was the dawn of Jim Crow and these attempts to disenfranchise the newly freed slaves set in motion acts of violence and terrorism against Blacks and would result in the resumption of military rule throughout the state by the end of 1869.

Since there is nothing more to be found in the year 1868, I must move on to the next.

1870

In July 1868, ex-governor and now Republican scalawag, Joseph E. Brown was appointed to the Supreme Court of Georgia, and in July 1869 the Supreme Court of Georgia ruled two-to-one that Blacks did indeed have the constitutional right to hold office in Georgia. Ironically one of the two deciding justices was Chief Justice (and chief scalawag) Joseph E Brown. By the end of 1869, the Republicans along with the Union Army were back in control of the state of Georgia. In February 1870, the newly constituted legislature ratified the 15th Amendment and chose new senators to send Washington. On July 15, 1870, Georgia was readmitted to the Union. In December of that year, statewide elections were held, and the Democratic Party won commanding majorities in both houses.

The Wednesday, December 31, 1870 edition of the Atlanta Weekly Intelligencer published a list of “gentlemen who have been appointed and confirmed as Managers of Election for the various counties in the state.” D. J. Dobbs of Cobb County is listed as one of five managers at the county site precinct in Marietta.

1871

In 1871 I find no mention of D. J. Dobbs; however, I do see a notice in the Macon Telegraph announcing the death of my third great-grandfather and D.J.’s father, Col. David Dobbs, Sr. It states that he was 80 years old and that he was one of the first settlers in Marietta.

1872

In January 1872, it appears the Lost Cause is alive and well in Marietta. I see in the January 26, 1872 addition of the Atlanta Daily Sun, that D. J. Dobbs is a signatory of a letter from Marietta Georgia dated January 25, 1872. The letter is an announcement that the undersigned “proposes to furnish a means to place the Confederate cemetery at Marietta in a better condition.” It says that their purpose in doing so “emanates from a benevolent and patriotic heart.” Part of the proposal is to create “a more accurate knowledge of the names and locations of soldiers buried in said cemetery.” It appears the purpose of the letter is to elicit donations for the cause.

In that same year, I see D. J. Dobbs and other former cadets from Georgia Military Institute have formed an association of ex-cadets. D.J. was a graduate of the first class at GMI – the Class of ’56. The stated object of the Association was “to revive and perpetuate the memories of former associations and, if possible, to reestablish the Institute.”

1873

In 1873 there was a convention of ex-cadets of the Georgia Military Institute. An item published in the Atlanta Daily Herald and dated September 2, 1873, lists D.J. Dobbs of Marietta as attending the convention.

The paper states that the business of this convention was to see that the Georgia military Institute, burned down by a vandal horde, should be rebuilt.

To those who say that there are enough institutions of learning in the state, the resolution states “God help their narrow, contracted souls. Others want to no trained soldiers; say these will be another nest to hatch so-called Rebels. What folly. This is but the remnant of the Mellish, ready to lie down at the popping of a cap.

I do not know if “Mellish” meant the same thing then that it does today.

1873

The October 16, 1873 edition of the Savannah morning news published a report regarding the July 1872 meeting of the former cadets of GMI. D. J. Dobbs is listed as treasurer of the organization.

1874

When I saw D. J. Dobbs‘ name appearing in the Americus Weekly Sumter Republican on May 1, 1874, I was as expecting to find a notice of a sheriff sale for that plantation down in Sumner County; however, I instead found D. J. Dobbs listed in reference to the Georgia Baptist State convention held in Americus Georgia on April 23, 1874. It stated that the Baptist Convention of the state of Georgia met this day in the Baptist house of worship in the city of Americus. A report was presented by the Committee on Credentials listing the members who attended. Listed as representing the Missionary Society of Marietta was D.J. Dobbs.

1875

Finally in the Wednesday August 11, 1875 edition of the Atlanta Daily Constitution, I see a notice from the Georgia state Supreme Court regarding the case of David J Dobbs versus his Prothro brothers-in-law. I discussed this case in depth in a previous post at this blog. (See Dobbs versus Prothro)

This was the last documented event for D.J. Dobbs in his lifetime. There is no appearance in the newspapers in 1876.

Col. David J Dobbs died in the summer of 1877 at age 42. I found no obituary or notice of his death.

Many folks go about their lives without ever having their name in the newspaper, and for most of us, our names appear in print may be only a couple of times. Marietta Georgia, now a suburb of Atlanta, was then a small town and that certainly played a part of it. In David Judson Dobbs case, his name appeared in the newspaper half a dozen times after the war and maybe three times before.

One of those antebellum events, the first in which his name appeared in a newspaper, was when a 14-year-old D.J. Dobbs, a youthful soldier in the Cold-Water Army, gave an inspirational speech at a Temperance convention held in Marietta in 1849. This was reported in the 12 July 1849 edition of The Southern Whig (Athens, Georgia)

Yet with all this publicity surrounding my great, great-grandfather available for my review, I feel as if there is more that I need to learn about the historical context in which he lived.

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